Friday, July 17, 2009

MySpace Wins CDA Immunity in Assault Cases

A California Court of Appeal recently upheld a lower court's ruling that the Communications Decency Act (CDA) immunized MySpace against claims stemming from "its decision not to implement reasonable, basic safety precautions with regard to protecting young children from sexual predators." In four consolidated cases, several girls aged 13 to 15 who were sexually assaulted by men they met through MySpace (the Julie Does) and their parents or guardians sued MySpace for negligence, gross negligence, and strict product liability. The appellate court held that these claims were barred by section 230(c)(1) of the CDA, which states that "[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider" and has generally been interpreted as immunizing websites against claims stemming from information posted by third parties. Finding that it was "undeniable that appellants s[ought] to hold MySpace responsible for the communications between the Julie Does and their assailants," the appellate court concluded that "section 230 immunity shields MySpace" from liability. Along with the Lori Drew ruling discussed above, the court’s dismissal of these claims against MySpace suggests that both users and providers of social networking websites may be able to skirt liability for some of the sites' more unsavory uses – at least for now. But if courts continue to throw out cases where social networking websites have been involved in incidents of stalking, bullying, or assault, the public backlash could lead Congress to narrow the scope of CDA immunity.

© Copyright 2009 Steptoe & Johnson LLP

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